The Agony of Defeat

I want to continue my comparison of athletes to writers. Both athletes and writers enter competitions (the Olympics or other athletic contests for the athlete and writing contests or efforts to have a book published for the writer). Both enter with their best (best conditioning, best routine, or best manuscript). The competitors in the Olympics were selected to represent their countries from a pool of athletes. These are the best of the best. With writers, the manuscript entered in a contest or sent to an agent or editor is (supposedly) the best of what that writer can write. And the manuscripts selected by agents and editors are those that the agents and editors consider the best of the submissions they received.

Each country wants the athletes representing it to be winners. Each writer wants his or her book picked as a winner or selected to be published, and each publishing house wants the books it publishes to be best sellers.

But not all athletes win, not all manuscripts are selected, and not all books become best sellers.

In life there are losers…or times when we lose. It’s how the athlete or writer reacts to this that is important.

Both athletes and writers need to realize sometimes the decision of whom or what is the best is subjective. In gymnastics, synchronized swimming, and diving for example, one judge may see a performance quite differently from another. (Which is why they throw out the highest and lowest scores.) The same is true with writing. Most writers who enter contests will, at one time or another, receive conflicting scores and/or comments. One editor (or reviewer or reader) may see a book as great, another will pan it. I had that experience with romance I wrote years ago. My agent submitted the manuscript to two editors. One said she didn’t like the heroine and turned the book down. For two days I was in the dumps trying to think of ways to make my heroine more loveable, and then my agent called. The other editor absolutely loved my heroine, loved the story, and wanted to publish it. Same story, same heroine, nothing different except in the eyes of the editors. Moral: If you first don’t succeed, try, try again.

 Sometimes athletes and writers make mistakes that cause their failure. The other night I watched the agony of one runner who made a false start and was automatically out of the race. All of that work to get there and his eagerness caused him to fail. Sometimes writers also do that to themselves. After working on a story for months, they get too eager and send it off before it’s ready. Or send it in a way that causes automatic rejection. Moral: Don’t rush. Make your story the best you possibly can, and read the guidelines.

Losing a competition, being rejected, or not reaching the New York Times list doesn’t mean you are a loser. Athletes who lose one year come back and win the next. Books that are rejected by multiple publishers go on to be mega-successes. If you have faced the Agony of Defeat, give yourself time to mourn or be angry. Cry, yell, do whatever you need to do to (I’ve been known to empty a bottle of wine.) and then give it another try.

Sometimes, simply being in the race and staying the course to end proves you’re not a loser.

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20 Responses to The Agony of Defeat

  1. Good comparison. I know I felt like an Olympian when I crossed the finish line of finishing my book last week!

  2. Excellent comparison, especially on those two points–failing to prepare and rushing the job at the end. I’ve had a ms rejected by one editor and then accepted by another (at the same house). Persistence is the most important quality for a writer.

  3. Good points! Just like an athlete, a writer has to practice and hone her craft, work at it, persist, and then hope for a bit of luck.

  4. Melissa Keir says:

    I like it! I’m a super athlete competing in the writer Olympics! 🙂

  5. Great post. Persistence and love of what you do matters so much–even more than luck I believe.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Irene, you’re right about the persistence and the love of what you’re doing; however, I know of writers who have both of those qualities but don’t ever seem to be at the right place at the right time. I’m not sure why that happens. I know, in my case, I was very lucky to be writing a romance that included a bedroom sex scene just when Harlequin decided to start their Temptation line.

  6. Mona Risk says:

    Thank you for this post and the reminder to keep going.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Mona, I definitely encourage you to keep going. If you believe in what you’ve written, then give it every chance you can. I remember one writer saying he’d sent his story out 46 times and received 46 rejections. BUT on the 47th time he received a contract and it later became a movie with Kevin Spacey.

  7. I agree with your advice. I believe you keep trying and striving to learn more about improving the quality of submissions. Essentially, the writer needs the best possible agent to reach a top publisher so there is an actual chance for success. This demands work that stands out from the herd of submissions.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Jacqueline, you are so right about the need to continue learning and improving the quality of your submissions. I believe that’s true for self-publishing as well as traditional publishers.

  8. Barbara Graham says:

    Thank you for the excellent post. I am finding it hard to stand up after the last knockdown but the need to write is still there.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Barbara, as long as that need is there, keep trying. If you had a brutal knockdown, see if you can connect with other writers, have them look at your work and give you some feedback. Often it’s little things that can be corrected. Again, think of the athletes. When they keep losing, they go to different coaches and try new approaches to improve their chances. Good luck.

  9. Catherine Dilts says:

    Maris, great comparison of athletes and writers. Thanks for the inspiring words.